By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
After a stirring duel for the win in the spring 2012 race at Kansas Speedway, the track underwent a massive reconfiguration that was completed by the time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returned to the track in October.
With the facelift, the track turned from a tame 1.5 miler to a treacherous beast that did its best to chew up and spit out as many race cars as possible in its opening weekend.
Mark Martin and Aric Almirola would be the two cars to get the first crack at the lead at Kansas, with Martin leading the first six laps after starting on the outside of the front row and Almirola taking over at lap seven after he moved up from fifth at the start of the race.
Meanwhile, the carnage was already starting on the treacherous Kansas high banks. Casey Mears plowed into the Turn 4 wall on lap 32, Kyle Busch lost control of his No. 18 car off the same corner at lap 41, and AJ Allmendinger blew a right front tire heading into Turn 3 on lap 72 to bring out the third caution of the day. Needless to say, that was just the beginning of the calamity that was yet to come.
Almirola continued to lead for the majority of those first 73 laps, holding onto the point for 66 of those first 73 laps before Jimmie Johnson took over under caution at lap 75.
At lap 84, the fourth caution of the day flew, after Tony Stewart made contact with the No. 31 car of Jeff Burton, sending Burton sideways and then into the Turn 4 wall after he overcorrected back to the right.
Back up front, Johnson continued to lead until lap 118, when Almirola got back by him, ending Johnson’s tenure up front at 44 laps. However, Almirola’s venture back into the lead would be short-lived as he blew a right front and got into the wall on lap 122. When the race went back to green, a new contender in Matt Kenseth would cycle into the race lead.
While Kenseth led, trouble befell former leader Johnson on lap 136 after he broke loose in Turn 4 and backed his No. 48 Chevrolet into the outside wall. Crew chief Chad Knaus made a split second decision to fix the car on pit road instead of the garage, allowing Johnson to return to the race in short order and saving his run toward the championship.
Kenseth continued to lead through lap 156, which included two more cautions. One for Bobby Labonte in a single car incident on lap 143 and another for an incident involving Danica Patrick and Landon Cassill on lap 156.
In the Patrick/Cassill incident, Patrick attempted to spin Cassill out entering Turn 1 after the two had been battling back and forth on the track, but ended up taking herself out in the process. Cassill was able to continue on in the race, but Patrick was not so lucky.
“Well, rule number one in stock car racing is learning how to wreck someone without wrecking yourself,” said Cassill over the radio after the incident.
Mark Martin took over in the lead under caution for the Patrick/Cassill crash and was able to stay up front for the longest stint of anyone by that point in the afternoon, leading 54 laps, in which four additional cautions flew. Two of the cautions were for single car crashes involving Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle, a two car incident between Marcos Ambrose and Trevor Bayne, and a four car crash exiting Turn 4 on lap 183.
In the lap 183 crash, Kyle Busch broke loose and backed into the outside wall, with Ryan Newman, Sam Hornish, Jr., and Kurt Busch all being collected in the aftermath. Brad Keselowski, who was the points leader, was right in the middle of the spinning cars, but was able to make an evasive maneuver to avoid them all and keep his car pointed in the right direction.
After Paul Menard took over the race lead from Martin at lap 212, the yellow flag flew again a few laps later at lap 215 as Almirola got into the wall for the second time of the day with a heavy impact that caused his No. 43 car to burst into flames momentarily.
Under the caution, the leaders hit pit road, with Kenseth beating everyone off pit road to take over the lead. Though he had to go through one final caution and restart over the final 49 laps, Kenseth was able to hold off Martin Truex, Jr. to score the win at Kansas, which was his third win of the season and his final win with Roush-Fenway Racing.
“Drivers, teams, we don’t really like repaves,” said Kenseth. We complain about them. I was thinking, Man, this has to be entertaining for everybody to watch. There was a lot of wild stuff happening. It was tricky especially when you were on the bottom and you didn’t have a lot of air.
“Our race went pretty good. Our car wasn’t bad from the start. Made some great adjustments from the first pit stop. Pretty good until I got into the wall. We had to come and fix it. Actually turned out to be some good fortune. Didn’t slow the car down. Had more fuel than anybody. They had to wait to fill their tanks up and we got our tank full faster, plus we had a really good pit stop, were able to pass all those guys. Put me out front and gave us a chance.
“I will say you never know when or if your next win is. Like I always am, especially as you get older, you really appreciate it more. I’m really, really thankful and humble to be sitting up here honestly. It’s just a pleasure to drive that stuff. We still have some races left we want to win. I just think it says a lot about these guys sitting here, Robbie, everybody else, how hard they work, give me the best stuff, give me a chance to win every week.
Following Kenseth and Truex was Paul Menard, Kasey Kahne, and Tony Stewart to round out the top-five. The top points leaders, Keselowski and Johnson, would leave Kansas with finishes of eighth and ninth, respectively, as they continued their showdown for the championship.